"Our specific complaint is that girls' high school basketball scores are completely ignored in your paper while boys' high school basketball is given 500-word articles. There are numerous active, aggressive teams from all-girls' schools as well as public schools. Girls' basketball is not a farce; it is an exciting spectator sport with a four-month season that is of interest to thousands of Washington-area students, including boys.
"We suggest that you "practice what you preach' and print reports on a sport where girls are anything but passive."
?The amount of coverage given to women's athletics is meager and the quality is atrocious. Most of the stories that do appear are generally in the man-bites-dog journalistic tradition, the gist of them being that here is an unusual and mildly humorous happening—a girl playing games. Rather than describing how well or badly the athlete performed or even how the contest turned out, writers tend to concentrate on the color of the hair and eyes, and the shape of the legs or the busts of the women. The best-looking girls (by male standards) are singled out for attention, no matter how little their sporting talent may be. Women athletes are bothered by this, since the insinuation is "at least some of them look normal." It is comparable to a third-string defensive back being featured on a college football program cover because of the length of his eyelashes or the symmetry of his profile.
?A fine (in the sense of being typical) example of women's sports journalism appeared in the Aug. 23, 1971 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: "A cool, braided California blonde named Laura Baugh made quite a splash...her perfectly tanned, well-formed legs swinging jauntily. The hair on her tapered arms was bleached absolutely white against a milk-chocolate tan. Her platinum hair was pulled smartly back in a Viking-maiden braid...." The account had to do with a women's golf tournament. The difference in reporting men's and women's sporting events is obvious.
?Between August 1972 and September 1973 NBC will televise 366 hours of "live" sport. Only one hour of this (the finals at Wimbledon) will be devoted to women. Til Ferdenzi, manager of sports publicity for NBC, says, "Egad, I never thought about it before. I guess it's not fair." Bill Brendle, his counterpart at CBS, says, "We don't know if women draw an audience—they might not be saleable." During the coming year CBS will televise some 260 hours of men's sports and 10 hours of women's sports. ABC does not know how its time is divided between men and women athletes, but ABC's Irv Brodsky says defensively, "Women don't play sports."
The paucity and peculiarity of sporting news about females have two effects, both discriminatory. First, girls at all levels of play are deprived of the genuine and harmless satisfaction of seeing their athletic accomplishments publicized. Because the feats of outstanding women athletes are briefly and bizarrely reported, there are few sporting heroines. Boys are bombarded with daily stories about how much fun male athletes are having, how important, dashing and rich they are. The suggestion is made that getting out and playing games—and playing them well—is an exciting and constructive thing to do. Girls have few such models and seldom receive such subliminal messages advertising athletics.
In an informal survey taken for the purposes of this report, nearly all of some 100 high school girls scattered across the country could name 10 male athletes in college or professional sports whom they admired—or at least whose names they knew. But not a single girl to whom the question was put could name 10 prominent women athletes. The sportswoman most often identified by the high school girls was not an American but Olga Korbut, the 17-year-old Russian gymnast (SI cover, Mar. 19) who appeared prominently on television during the 1972 Olympics.
As bad as it is, conventional discrimination has perhaps had less influence on women's position in the sporting world than has another phenomenon that ranges even further. It might be called psychological warfare; its purpose is to convince girls who show an inclination for athletics that their interest is impractical and unnatural. The campaign to frighten girls into accepting notions about their athletic role begins early.
Carol is 12, an eighth-grade student at a parochial grammar school in Maryland. She is one of the best athletes, regardless of sex, in the school. Last year she was ranked by the AAU among the 15 best high jumpers of her age in the country. She comes by her athletic interests and talents naturally. Her father was a professional basketball player and now is a college coach. In her family, playing games is a way of life. But Carol is discovering that elsewhere sports are not regarded as suitable for girls. And it makes her angry. "At recess," Carol says, "the boys get the softball and kick-ball fields. The girls have a parking lot and part of a field with holes in it. Sometimes we don't even get that field because Sister keeps us in to wash off tables. She says that is girls' work."
C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls, Mont, has 2,040 students and an excellent girls' athletic program ($15,000 a year for girls; $35,000 for boys). Yet even there, the members of a six-girl panel discussing sports were aware of forces putting them in their athletic place.